Pretty much everybody loves chocolate. And why shouldn’t they? It’s abundant in antioxidants, makes us happy, and tastes delicious. If you haven’t heard about Manifest Chocolates yet, read on to learn about the impressive young entrepreneur/student who started the business as a way to pay for college.
1. When and why did you start making vegan chocolates?
I started making vegan chocolates almost three years ago in my dorm room at the University of Missouri (with just a dehydrator!) due to a lack of vegan desserts. Two years ago, I moved to Kansas City and switched from a Food Science degree—learning about meat and dairy was a requirement, EW!—to a Business degree. Along the way, I decided I wanted to pay for college by starting a business instead of working for someone else. It kind of ended up the other way though, as I’ve used scholarship money to buy cacao before!
I spent a couple of months learning and eating as much as possible and it went from there. I just rebranded last month from Manos, my last name, to Manifest Chocolates. I really wanted a name that encompassed the vision I’m trying to re-create. It’s an organic growth company—no outside funding—so as we grow the company manifests itself in a literal sense.
2. Who/What inspires you?
It’s totally out there—drag queens—but really, anyone that’s trying to make you think. I came out as a member of the LGBTQ community and a vegan around the same time. I was reading a lot of counterculture material, and I still do now. What really struck me is how it all plays on our perceptions of society and ourselves. Sometimes we want to create a passable product; look at all the mock meats, “mylks”, etc. People dream up products and ideas that make you question everything and are like nothing in the Standard American Diet. That’s the kind of company I want to build.
I would like to see everyone in the world eat a vegan, more whole-foods, plant-based diet. But, I don’t want to see it commodified and exploited. You see so many people pushing veganism as a health tool, and perpetuating body images, which I think is backwards. Why can’t we just love ourselves? Veganism is so much more than that. I want to see veganism stay subversive and be a means of change; until we’ve accomplished what a lot of us believe in and rule the world, of course. I’m also a 22-year-old and I wanted to get on my soapbox for a minute.
3. What do you enjoy most about your work and what challenges, if any, have you faced along the way?
Time and money—I started this company out-of-pocket at 19, and that’s how I want to keep it (well, 100% family-owned at least). I worked in a health food store for a couple years, so I have a faint, maybe jaded, grasp on how the industry works: how companies sell out, how quality drops, and where the money really goes. Not having investors has had me come up short a few times and not be able to fill orders, but that’s happening less and less.
I’m still trying to finish up my bachelors degree in business/economics, which isn’t that big of a deal but sometimes just having to be somewhere eats up a good chunk of my day. All of my chocolates are made by hand at the moment. I’ve structured the company to keep prices down for me, which results in lower prices for customers! I just brought on an awesome accounts/sales manager. We quickly found out that nobody can churn out Helio Cups as fast as I can. I also can’t seem to get out of the kitchen. She’ll be bringing my chocolates to the masses.
I do love it all though. I love to challenge myself, almost to the point of masochism. I worked full-time in high school and put myself through an advanced course load while running a boy scout troop my senior year (I’m not as big of a nerd as I sound, I swear!). I kind of lost that fighting spirit a few months ago. But I’m ready to tackle everything with full force again. I skip school more than I should admit.
4. What’s an average day-in-the-life like for you?
I’m getting back into the habit of waking up, working out, and doing some yoga—even if that ends up being at noon after pulling an all-nighter. I actually quit my original job and started a chocolate company because it was getting in the way of my favorite hot yoga class, and then this got in the way of that!
Then, it’s either school for a bit, or just going straight into chocolate-making. I wear a lot of hats, but the only thing that really stays consistent daily is that I end up getting chocolate on it somehow. Sometimes I’m cramming for an exam, sometimes I’m working late to fill orders, and sometimes it’s both at once… and that’s scary! Somehow I find time to binge-watch Netflix or play some indie games before passing out at the end of the day.
5. Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon you can tell us about?
I mentioned earlier that we rebranded our name to Manifest Chocolates which was very exciting. Right now, we just do wholesale manufacturing out of our space. This time next year we should be looking at a retail/café space. Then you’ll start seeing some bizarre confections with touches of exotic and local flavors. We 3D print our custom molds, so there will be some funky geometric designs too, which actually excites me the most.
We’re also launching our “Manifest Love” concept soon. We’re still fine-tuning some of the smaller details, but there will be t-shirts!
Thanks, Zac, for sharing your sweet story with us. We look forward to the launch of your “Manifest Love” concept, and of course, tee-shirts! Get your hands on some of Zac’s delicious chocolate in the Vegan Cuts marketplace. You won’t regret it!